Recently, a mother, Sidra Boshes Shapiro, who attended our Tots Shabbat, brought to my attention a card which was inserted into the pews of a particular Christian church. The card attempted to make families with children feel welcome at worship, while asking folks without kids to have understanding. I suggested she write a Jewish version, which she did. The card can now be found in our sanctuary. Here are a few highlights:
“Relax! Hashem (God) put wiggle in children, don’t feel you have to suppress it in shul. All are welcome. Sit near the front where your children can see what is happening on the bimah. They are tired of seeing the backs of others’ heads.
Quietly explain the parts of the service and the actions of the rabbi, cantor, etc. Sing the songs and say the prayers. Children learn how to participate in shul from you. If you need to leave the sanctuary with your child, feel free to do so, but please come back!
We know that children cannot stay quiet for long periods of time. Short bursts of enthusiasm from little ones are fine. If they are loudly crying or talking for a continuous period of time, we ask that you take them into the hallway for a while so that other congregants are not disturbed especially during kaddish or the Rabbi’s sermon. Many parents bring quiet toys or books to occupy their children during services. Please do not bring toys that make noise, and please pause the video game during the Shema and Kaddish!……Remember that the way we welcome children in shul directly affects the way they respond to shul, to Judaism and to one another. Let them, and their parents, know that they are welcome in this shul.
To shul members: The presence of children is a gift to the shul, and they are a reminder that our community is growing. Please welcome our children, and give a smile of encouragement to their parents. Glares and even unfriendly glances can really hurt. That parent is doing his or her best. If you see a parent struggling, please offer to help them. Remember those adults in your life who taught you about your faith, and honor their willingness to teach and to welcome you by doing the same for a new generation.
Rabbi Eleazar says in the Babylonian Talmud: Don’t call them banayich – thy children, call them bonayich – thy builders. If creating a safe and comfortable environment for young children and parents will help families come to shul, help them be able to stay in shul, and get them habituated to being in shul, then we are truly turning our children and their families into the builders of our future.” I am proud that these words are in our sanctuary. It says something about who we are and what we want for our religious community. Let’s enjoy the presence of youth. In many ways, praying alongside them will make our spiritual experience all the more fulfilling.
Wishing you well over the fast.
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen